Reaching Unchurched People Groups
Stan Mathias is the founder and president of Hidden Harvest International. From day one of his ministry, the call of God on his life has always been to take the gospel to Far East Asia. Moving to Taiwan in 1996 with zero ministerial contacts, he pioneered one of the largest Bible schools in the nation where over 51 different churches sent a leader or representative to attend. In 2002, the Lord directed Stan to focus his ministry. This focus resulted in the simple beginnings of four house church Bible schools that grew into over 1,000 schools and 13,000 pastors being trained with over 2.5 million people under those pastors. Even while making a significant impact in the house churches, the Lord began his true master plan for Stan’s life, “reaching the completely unengaged and unreached people groups in the Far East” – the Lord’s “Hidden Harvest.”
Hidden Harvest International is now involved with over 3 million unreached people in some of the most remote parts of East Asia. For over 20 years, Stan has been steadfastly faithful to carry out God’s plan on his life of taking the gospel to Far East Asia and is fully focused on reaching the Hidden Harvest in that region for years to come. Stan can be reached through the ministry website at www.hiddenharvestinternational.org.
You have probably heard at some time during your Christian walk this comment, “Certainly most everyone has heard of Jesus by now. Surely missionaries have been sent to every country. Haven’t we already completed the Great Commission?” While the spread of Christianity has been nothing short of supernatural, there are still huge segments of the world’s population that have never heard the name of Jesus even once.
Take a Closer Look
Let’s take a closer look at what the Bible says in Matthew 24:14, “And this gospel of the kingdom will be preached in the whole world as a testimony to all nations, and then the end will come.” In this verse, the word “nations” in the original Greek language means “Ethne.” This is where we get the English word “ethnic,” or “ethnic group.” The definition of an ethnic group is any group with the same basic culture, customs, and tongue/language. So actually, what Matthew 24:14 is saying is that this gospel of the kingdom will be preached in the whole world as a testimony to all “Ethne” or “ethnic groups” or language groups and then the end will come. Everybody likes the end of this verse where it says, “and then the end will come,” but in essence, this is a conditional verse. We have to meet the condition of the verse before the promise can manifest. We are held accountable to get the gospel preached to every ethnic people/language group on the earth.
Breakdown of Today’s World
There are approximately 7.2 billion people in the world today. Out of the 7.2 billion people in the world today, 4.3 billion people “DO” have the opportunity to hear the gospel. But just because people have the opportunity to hear that doesn’t automatically mean that they have accepted Jesus Christ and are born again. As we know, for example here in the United States, there is a church in every state, and there is a church in every town; but there still remains 2.9 billion in the rest of the world that “DO NOT” have the opportunity to hear the gospel.
Unreached People Groups
A definition of an unreached people group is, “a people group within which there is no indigenous community of believing Christians able to evangelize this people group.” The numerical criteria for being considered unreached is less than 2% Christians.
So, today there are approximately 16,400 ethnic people groups in the world. The latest projections say that approximately 6,600 people groups are considered unreached. That means over 40% of the world’s people groups have no indigenous community of believing Christians able to evangelize the rest of their people group. A sobering fact is that 43 of the top 50 unreached people groups are in closed countries. Communist China is the leading country with the most unreached people groups.
The Core of Unreached People Groups
Current data from the largest mission board in the world estimates that there are over 3,000 ethnic people groups that are not only unreached, but also completely UNENGAGED. This means that there is few, if any, known believers and no missionaries, no outreach, no church, no Christian materials. There are millions of souls in these unengaged unreached people groups that have never ever heard of Jesus or his work of redemption.
Where Do Most Unreached People Come From?
This is a great question that most all Christians do not fully understand. A large portion of unreached people groups come from this one component. Today in the world there is roughly 7,000 different languages on planet earth (English only counts as one of those languages). Out of those 7,000 languages, 5,000 of those languages have some form of scripture translated, so that leaves a total of roughly 2,000 different unreached languages or people groups which equates to about 340 million people. Usually these people/language groups do not even have a word for God in their entire vocabulary. Understanding the perspective of this number, the entire current population of the United States of America is only 322 million people. Imagine the complete darkness that you would be in if we did not even have a word for God in our entire vocabulary. That is how millions and millions of people are living right now as you are reading this very sentence.
How Do We Reach Unreached People Groups?
Throughout the history of missions it has been proven that there has never been a move of God able to be SUSTAINED without the Scriptures in the mother tongue language of the people that you are trying to reach. This is their heart language which enables them to fully understand a clear presentation of the message of salvation. Let me give you a simple illustration of this truth. When you proposed to your wife, what language did you use to present your proposal to her? For most of you that answer would be the English language. Why didn’t you use the German language to present your proposal to her? The reason you did not use the German language to propose to her is because that is not the mother tongue language that your future wife would be able to clearly and fully understand this huge proposal that you are presenting to her that will change the rest of her entire life. You used her heart language to ensure she fully understood your proposal. Just as you did for your future wife, Jesus commanded us in Matthew 24:14 to go and do the same for every “Ethne” or people/language group on earth.
Another example of this truth happened with a missionary who was greatly struggling with trying to present the message of salvation to an unreached people group in which he was not using their mother tongue to communicate the incredible power and sacrifice of Jesus Christ. But after many hours of frustration, they were able to ask him this one simple question. “If you say that this God that you talk about is so awesome and full of wisdom than why can’t he even speak our own language?”
To make, not just a convert, but a disciple of Jesus Christ, it requires the Scriptures to be available in the mother tongue of the people. Bible translation is the absolute foundation from which all ministry to unreached people groups are built. How can you reach them if you do not even have a word for God created in their vocabulary? In the past the average length of time to enter a completely unreached people group and produce a New Testament was 15+ years. There is not a quick fix to tackle the pioneering process to break through into an unknown language and translate the Word of God. The American understanding of translation is a very shallow concept because of the relatively simplistic idea which we have been programmed concerning the process of translation. In all actuality, there are 19 different challenging steps to perform in order to correctly translate one sentence while doing a translation. It is not just all about the translation; you also have to have an understanding of that people group’s world view in order to contextualize the Scriptures correctly to bring clarity and accuracy to the group’s understanding. This is hard for Americans to understand, yet it is still true. The good news is that the current process to develop a translation for an unreached people group is now only around 8 years. The advancement of the science of linguistics and technology has allowed this translation timeframe to be cut almost in half from 15 years to 8 years. Praise God!! Once the translation is done, that is just step one. The next step is the mobilization process of getting the word into the people’s hearts to bring about life transformation.
Even after the Scriptures are translated, delivery strategies for each people group can widely vary. For example, over 800 million adults are considered illiterate. Much of this is concentrated in 8 countries with extremely high concentrations of unreached people groups. In addition, 60% of the world’s population is considered to be oral learners, meaning their preferred learning mode is oral—not written. Some estimates suggest that up to 70% of the unreached peoples of the world are oral preference communicators. For those that are either illiterate or oral learners, the delivery strategy of printed matter, books, newspaper, Internet text, even a physical Bible, will have minimal impact. To figure out the best delivery strategy to implement, you have to ask some key questions first. Is this people group in a closed country or an open country? Is this people group literate or illiterate? Is this people group orality learners or strictly visual learners? After these key questions are answered, you can build your strategy, but it will always have to be fluid based upon the receptivity of the people.
For oral learners, one of the key strategies is what we call in mission terms as “Storytelling.” This is simple communication to them in basic, picture storyboard sequence, the flow from creation to Christ, where they get to hear and see the stories from the Word of God. One of the huge advantages with oral learners is that their memories are extremely keen and sharp due to the fact they have had to use it their entire life to remember all the details of life. Whereas, we as Westerners, usually have had the crutch of always writing things down to remember them.
Once they hear a story, it is very easy for them to commit it to memory and ponder on it in their own minds and hearts, which is exactly what we want them to do because then the anointing of God’s Word will bring light. God is always faithful and he watches over his word to perform it.
Another important tool is the Jesus Film. After you have completed translating the book of Luke in the mother tongue, it can easily be voiced over into the film because the majority of the films script is directly from Luke. This film is the most widely used evangelistic tool ever with over 200 million documented salvations from viewing this film. It has been translated over 1,400+ different language translations and counting.
For those people in the unreached people groups that have the skill sets to learn to read, providing reading workshops is effective. In these workshops we use the Bible as their textbook to learn the skill of reading, which integrates the Word of God into their hearts. Operating these workshops enable a very wide evangelistic reach because it attracts the young and the old in a very engaging manner.
Community development, such as providing safe clean water for drinking, cooking and washing is also another tool. Wellness solutions for critical sanitation problems and disease prevention can also unlock the hearts of the people to receive the truth of God’s Word.
Each unreached people group is its own unique entity and there is not one cookie-cutter strategy that instantly works across the board. Each group needs to be studied and analyzed to determine what will be most effective in presenting the Gospel to them.
For instance, the two different unreached people groups that our ministry focuses on has found that a technology approach is most effective for reaching our groups of over 3 million unreached people. In our case, we work in a closed country in southeast Asia which has 1.4 billion people, but yet it has 1.8 billion cell phones in the country. Our strategy is that we transfer video files with our custom-made film completely created for them and audio files with their mother tongue Bible translation into their phones. Our short film provides a salvation plan, which at the end, draws them into making a decision to invite Jesus into their hearts. We then create small listening groups to come together once a week to hear the Word of God with one of our trained leaders. Henceforth, a church plant results.
The Great Commission Versus The Great Imbalance
The Great Commission is still the “Mission” of the church worldwide. It always has been and always will be. In the parable of the lost sheep, the shepherd leaves the 99 and seeks out the one. He uses his resources to find the lost one. It seems we may have the priority backwards with the vast majority of Christian resources being used on other good things rather than seeking to reach the unreached. Approximately 90% of all missionaries work among already reached people groups. For every dollar of mission finances sown, less than one penny is directed at reaching unreached people groups.
So the question is, “Has Everyone Heard?” The answer is “NO.” The only way you can change that is by being a bold believer to pray and ask the Lord for yourself, “What is it that you want me to do to reach the unreached people groups that still exist in the world today?” If you don’t ask, then the answer will remain “NO.”